Rising Leader Series: Week 16 - The Sojourner
Song for April. Listen => Between the Moments (on Christ’s faithfulness, despite our disconnectedness)
In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day describes her long journey from radicalized non-believer, committed to class warfare, through a period of doubt and deep self-reflection, through a faith conversion, and on to a God-committed life serving the poor and pursuing social justice.
As a young adult, Day became a union activist, suffragette and social agitator. A member of the Socialist Party and a labor journalist, all of the people she knew and respected were communists and socialists. None believed in God. In the wake of a suffragette protest in Washington, DC, thrown in jail, Day went on a week-long hunger strike. Hungry, afraid and utterly alone, Day was struck by a sudden, deep yearning for God. She asked for a Bible. She read and she prayed. Inside that jail cell, Day bared her soul to God. And so began a long, multi-year sojourn through deep inner solitude towards the divine.
It was a lonely journey. All of her friends were committed atheists– they couldn’t comprehend her decision to become baptized, to become a Catholic Christian. They drifted away. Her new walk with God began to separate her from all she knew. She began to realize that only in solitude could she find her essence, rediscover her deepest truth, return to her original goodness. On December 8, 1932, Day’s years of sojourning and prayer culminated in a desperate plea to God– that “some way would open up for me to use what talents I possess for my fellow workers, for the poor.”
God answered her prayer.
Dorothy Day went on to become a capable, ethical leader. For the rest of her life, she lived with and served the poor. She lived like the poor, divesting herself of possessions. She fought peacefully for social justice. She co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, creating houses of hospitality for families in need. More than just food and shelter, Day worked to build a loving community, anchored in God. She encouraged those she helped to help each other– to see their connectedness to others in similar plights, and to create true community. She encouraged in her charges a vibrant faith life. Day died in 1980; to this day many in the Catholic Church advocate for her canonization as a saint.
Day’s “long loneliness”-- her sojourn– led her through inner turmoil to a new life of God-centered servant leadership. We can learn much from her story. It seems ironic that to emerge as a selfless, other-oriented servant leader, one first needs to descend into the self– one’s inner solitude. Yet it’s an important truth: we can’t get beyond ourselves until we go deep within ourselves. This is the sojourner’s journey.
This journey is of great consequence for our world’s next generation of leaders. The world needs leaders well-formed, ready to fend off the temptations of leadership, ready to stay on the path of truth. Anger– greed– pride– fear– all of these lurk in the shadows of our souls. Leaders cannot attain the vital attributes of decency, civility and charity– nor courage, nor love, nor justice– without first suffering the hard apprenticeship of constructive solitude.
What a tragedy it is– the unconsidered life. The deepest dream of our hearts is not so much for a life of worldly accomplishments as a life of meaning– of holiness. But meaning can only be gleaned through struggle and suffering. It is only in the silence of our hearts (braced by the courage that flows from faithful surrender to our God who abides with and in us) that we can leap past fear and denial to shine a light upon our shadow sins and compulsions, and so begin the work of untangling and transforming them.
A sojourner is one who summons the courage to embark on such a journey. The sojourner climbs through and beyond the false self towards deep, essential truths. The most essential truths of our soul take time and effort to prize out. Sojourners must first shoulder the yoke of important questions, much as a mother carries a baby in the womb. So too, questions must gestate. Upon the birth of Jesus, it was said of Mother Mary: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”-- Luke 2:19 The sojourner ponders– patiently and humbly abiding as difficult truth forms into consciousness.
Sojourn, rising leader. Carry the questions. Ponder in your heart. At the appointed time, truth will burst forth in all its clarity and beauty and forgiveness, and so guide you forward on your path towards righteousness.
“Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham.”-- Genesis 26:3
The sojourner opens up the soul for God to enter in. The seeker walks beside God on this journey of the soul, actively searching for truth. Next week, we turn to the seeker.
Safe travels, good leader!
P.S.: Sometimes in life, we reach the point where we just need to break away– to walk in solitude so that we can sort things through. This poem is about that.
Though confusions, compulsions cluttered my soul
I’d mastered contrivance to skip truth and such
With casual cast of my cloak of control,
I could cover my conscious– keep it unclutched
But the utter fatigue of it won in the end
One tap: soul broke open, its demons to fly
A maelstrom of consequence blew ‘round the bend
Broke my defenses with one loud battle cry
Surrender! Surrender... I said with a sigh
Then, emptied of ego, I took to the road
Questions I carried ‘long sweet by and by–
With space, time and God to help me decode
‘Til somehow my sojourn returned me renewed
More humble, more faithful, more wise and more true
Previous Week's Letters: